Raymond Keene

Playing the blues

Playing the blues
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This Saturday (2 March) sees the annual varsity match between the teams of Oxford and Cambridge. Oxford are strengthened this year by the addition of China’s Hou Yifan, the former women’s world champion, and are likely to be the favourites.

As usual, the match starts at noon in the traditional venue of the RAC in Pall Mall and spectators are welcome, though there is a smart dress code for those who wish to watch.

A continuing problem is the failure of Oxford to award their players half blues in recognition of their distinction in representing the university. The more enlightened authorities at Cambridge granted this deserved honour many years ago. It is time for the Oxford players to demand their rightful due.

The following game was judged to be the most brilliant from last year’s match.

Foo Zhi Rong-Choong: Varsity Match, London 2018; Caro-Kann Defence

1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bf5 5 Ng3 Bg6 6 Nf3 Nd7 7 Nh4 The main lines of this variation are reached via 7 h4. 7 ... e6 8 Nxg6 hxg6 Although White gains the bishop pair and doubles Black’s kingside pawns, such structures are known to be highly resilient for Black. 9 Bd3 Ngf6 10 c3 Bd6 11 Qf3 Qc7 Black does not commit the king to the kingside in anticipation of being able to use the open h-file to pressure the white king. 12 Ne4 White innovates but with a relatively insipid course of action. More usual and stronger would be 12 Bd2, planning 0-0-0. 12 ... Nxe4 13 Bxe4 Nf6 14 Bc2 c5 15 dxc5 Bxc5 16 Ba4+ Kf8 (see diagram 1) Losing the right to castle is no disadvantage for Black as he will motorise his king’s rook via the open h-file where it is ideally placed. 17 Bf4 e5 18 Be3 This is wrong. 18 Bg3 is much better as the bishop then protects the white king and also allows White to create pressure against the slightly vulnerable e5-pawn. 18 ... e4 19 Bxc5+ Qxc5 20 Qe2 Rd8 21 0-0 Rh5 22 Bb3 Qe5 23 h3 Rd3 (see diagram 2) 24 f3 This feels like panic. After 24 Rfd1 the game is balanced as 24 ... Rdxh3 fails to 25 gxh3 Rxh3 26 Qc4 when the white king has an escape route. Not, however, 24 Rad1 as 24 ... Rdxh3 25 gxh3 Qg5+ 26 Kh2 Ng4+ is then decisive. 24 ... Qc5+ 25 Kh1 Re3 Black quickly exploits the weak-nesses around the white king. 26 Qd1 Qc7 27 Rf2 Qg3 28 Qd8+ Ne8 29 Raf1 exf3 30 Bxf7 30 Rxf3 fails to 30 ... Rxh3+ 31 gxh3 Rxf3 and Black is winning. 30 ... fxg2+ 31 Rxg2 Qxh3+ 32 Kg1 Qh1+ 33 Kf2 Re2+ 34 Kxe2 Qxg2+ 35 Ke3 Re5+ 36 Kf4 Re4 mate